During the winter season, the natural world tends to go inward. Just as darkness prevails outside, we too may get more in touch with the darkness within.
In our out-of-balance society, we can feel pressure to always be positive and sunny, always look on the bright side, always be happy. And while it’s absolutely true that gratitude is powerful and protective, forcing a “Pollyanna” attitude when there may actually be difficult feelings here with us can cause unhappiness. Have you ever encountered people who are so positive it makes you feel uneasy, because it seems fake, forced, or out of touch?
Allowing negative feelings to be seen and held can actually unleash tremendous joy and freedom. This is different from wallowing in negativity. When there are traces of what might be considered negative feelings within (sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, petulance, annoyance, etc.), we can either be the feelings — completely identified with and overcome by them — or, we can see, hold, and acknowledge these feelings. Meditation can help us develop the skill to be with our feelings. Instead of being the victim of our feelings — the crying child experiencing the feelings — we can be both the crying child and the comforting parent holding the child. Eventually, the cries subside and what remains is loving presence. Oftentimes after such a process, like after a passing rainstorm – sunshine and rainbows can spontaneously appear.
Without training, we may only know how to be the negative feelings when we feel them… and that is overwhelming. When that is the case, we may wallow, be taken over, and feel like there is no escape. Often as children, space was not given for our negative feelings. We may have been shushed when we cried and offered distractions to make us forget why we were sad. For some children, it can be downright unsafe to cry, and so we learn to suppress, repress, and generally fear negative feelings within us. We may have learned through early experience that it’s not safe to feel sad or angry, that we will not be loved if we are anything but sunny—that big boys and girls don’t cry.
And as adults, we tend to deal with our emotions the way we were dealt with as children. We don’t often cultivate the capacity to deal head-on with the absolutely normal negative feelings that inevitably come up in life. The good news is — through practice, we can re-parent ourselves, and learn the skills we didn’t get a chance to learn as children. Meditation teaches us to be aware of what’s happening as it’s happening. It becomes more and more difficult to sweep things under the rug or shove unwanted feelings into the cellar. We have a clearer view of what is there. And we develop the ability to bear witness and bring compassion to ourselves. We can hold the space for hard feelings to discharge.
When feelings are suppressed, repressed, and not allowed, they can last a long time, perhaps even a lifetime! They manifest in unexpected and often unwanted ways. But when they are allowed, seen, witnessed, and validated, they aren’t so sticky. This actually gives us more capacity to respond skillfully to a difficult situation, out of compassion and care rather than reactivity.
We often hold multiple truths and feelings within ourselves about the same thing — some positive, some negative. Don’t be afraid of your shadow! Often it has important information to share with you. When we allow what might be a shadow feeling to have a voice, we can find our way to peace and resolution. Allowing space to look at the shadow doesn’t mean it needs to take over. We can be the compassionate observer of and loving presence for the shadow rather than being the shadow. Embracing our shadow doesn’t mean being in the abyss. It means bringing love and light into the darkness of the abyss.
Photo Credit: “January 8, 2014” by THE ZEN DIARY – https://flic.kr/p/no1p1i